Annual Report 2001: Undergraduate School 2000 - 2001
Review by the Director
Role of the Undergraduate School:
The Undergraduate School is run by a member of the academic staff serving as Director (Dr P M R Howell), together with a full-time Assistant to the Director (Mrs V Forbes) who manages the work of the School and its office on a day-to-day basis. The School organises the Department's teaching programme for the Geographical Tripos, including the timetabling and location of lectures, submission of coursework, arrangements for visiting lecturers, production of the annual course guide, the running of examination business, assessment of courses and lecturers, and producing the agenda and minutes for a range of committee meetings. The Department remains indebted to Veronica Forbes for the remarkable job she performs.
One of the major responsibilities outside this day-to-day running of undergraduate teaching is the preparation of the following year's teaching programme, which is discussed and approved by the academic staff and the Teaching Meeting held in Easter, chaired by the Directors of the Undergraduate and Graduate schools. Changes to the Geographical Tripos - for instance the commitment to advertise courses two years in advance - have meant that this meeting is more important and more potentially complicated then ever.
There is also an Undergraduate School Committee which serves as a link between staff and students, and holds meetings every term. The undergraduate representation on this committee consists of one student representing each of the three year groups (Part IA, Part IB, Part II), plus a Faculty Board student representative, and a representative (usually the President) of the Cambridge University Geographical Society.
The Geographical Tripos:
The Tripos has undergone a series of major and minor reforms in the past few years, including a reduction in the number of papers required of students at Part 1B and Part II, changes to the structure of assessment of Part II papers, and a reorganisation of the structured choice of papers available at Part 1B. These changes have bedded down reasonably well, although some changes are undergoing a trial period and are under review. Generally speaking, these changes have served their purpose in streamlining the undergraduate teaching programme, widening the range of forms of assessment, increasing the clarity and introducing flexibility into the programme.
Part of the flexibility envisaged includes the move towards the rotation of papers of Part II, so that academic staff might rest papers for a year, most obviously for reasons of sabbatical leave. This strategy needs refinement in the next couple of years, but it is an important move towards easing the burden on academic staff, refreshing established papers, and indeed allowing new papers to be proposed. With the decision taken to ensure that first-year students have a clear knowledge of the likely choices available to them in their final year, the department has to think on a two-year cycle in terms of any proposed changes. The academic year 2001 - 2002 saw the running of several new papers, along these lines, and the success of this strategy is again subject to review.
The major new element this year was the introduction of a system of assessment at Part II that allowed course co-ordinators to opt for assessment by examination and a submitted essay or equivalent coursework. Five out of the fifteen courses were run in this manner, an innovation that was popular with those running the courses, but which was less clearly welcomed by the final year undergraduates. This will need another year of review.
As far as the normal running of the Tripos goes, examination statistics reveal that in 2001 three-quarters of students at 1B and Part II gained an Upper Second Class result or better whilst around half the student cohort gained an Upper Second or better at Part II. This is roughly consistent with the last few years though, if anything, 2001's results showed examiners at Part 1A and Part 1B, at least, marking students more harshly then in previous years. In any event, this pattern seems to be roughly stable, with good results being returned year on year, and notably few Thirds. The gender breakdown at Part 1B and Part II was somewhat disappointing, with women falling short of their male peers at the upper levels of the classification. This remains, as it has been for several years, a cause for concern.
Residential field classes:
The commitment of the Undergraduate School to field teaching remains strong, with project work carried out on the Part IB field classes firmly established as part of that year's assessment process. Three week-long residential field classes have all been run in the Mediterranean at Easter since 1996, with participation in one of these classes compulsory for Part IB students; all students are offered, via lectures, an introduction to the geography of the Mediterranean before the field classes begin. These classes are general rather than specific, covering a range of topics and techniques in human and physical geography, and serve a significant purpose in introducing students to methodologies that will be helpful to them in carrying out their final-year dissertation. The field classes since 1995 have been as follows:
|Easter vacation 1995||Algarve||Crete||Netherlands|
|Easter vacation 1996||Algarve||Crete||Mallorca|
|Easter vacation 1997||Aeolian islands, Italy||Malta||SE Spain|
|Easter vacation 1998||Algarve||Crete||Mallorca|
|Easter vacation 1999||Aeolian islands, Italy||Crete||Malta|
|Easter vacation 2000||Algarve||Mallorca||SE Spain|
|Easter vacation 2001||Algarve||Crete||SE Spain|
In addition there were several one-day field excursions and a specialist residential field class to Iceland. Overall, the enthusiasm of students for these classes remains high.
The Part II dissertation:
The compulsory dissertation is, like residential fieldwork, a very long-established feature of the Tripos, and has become even more important in the final year assessment students in recent years. The dissertation, which is entirely unsupervised after initial discussion with Directors of Studies and other members of the teaching staff, offers students the opportunity to carry out an independent investigation based on geographical ideas, methods, and technical skills acquired during the course of the Tripos. As part of its teaching on research design, the Department offers students lectures on the design of dissertations and research methods in key areas of the discipline, but the Department otherwise imposes very little constraint on either the topic chosen or the location of the study, other than restrictions that are felt to be desirable on grounds of the intellectual merits of the project, its feasibility, logistics, and questions of safety. Students prepare their proposal for submission to their Directors of Study, and the Head of Department, at the end of the Lent term; they are also required to submit an assessment of the risks involved in carrying out their research. Undergraduates in recent years have chosen a wide variety of topics and locales for their dissertations, with an even split between the UK and overseas destinations.
This year the quality of the undergraduate dissertations was again remarkably high, and serves as a fitting display of the students abilities and their progress during their undergraduate career. Eleven students won William Vaughan Lewis prizes this year (for First Class dissertations), up from just five in 2000, and three in 1999. In national competition, it is worth noting that the department's students continue to perform well, with Andrew Currah of Downing being awarded the RGS-IBG Urban Geography Research Group Prize, and Torcail Stewart of Jesus the RGS-IBG Historical Geography Research Group Prize.
The success of these students is a tribute to the exceptional talents of the individuals concerned, but the Department can take a particular pride in preparing these students for outstanding original research. Overall, the undergraduate teaching at Cambridge is a demonstrably successful programme, producing impressive results across the board. External examiners continue to praise the work of the School, in the substance and delivery of its teaching, in its efficiency in administration and in the conduct of its examinations.
Dr P M R Howell
Director of the Undergraduate School
12 June 2002
Geographical Tripos Statistics 2000 - 2001
Distribution of Tripos Results by Class
Gender Breakdown of Tripos Results 2001
|Part IA||Female ||3||6||24||47||23||45||1||2|
|Part IB||Female ||2||4||33||69||13||27||0||0|
|Part II||Female ||4||9||29||66||11||25||0||0|